Few are left who directly remember the merger battle that brought the leadership of the United Israel Appeal into what would become the sad JFNA and with it the vote of UIA to enable the United Jewish Appeal's dissolution as part of that merger process. But I remember it well as I led the merger side and I have apologized...every chance I have had...to my dear friend and mentor, Shoshana Cardin, who raised the most serious and substantive objections to the merger... and who had a prescience about what the merger would wrought that I and others lacked...or ignored.
I was surprised, as others were shocked, when I was offered the UIA Chair to succeed the inspired leadership that Detroit's Jane Sherman demonstrated in that role. Jane strongly and consistently asserted UIA's role to a succession of JFNA Chairs and CEOs -- as UIA set the JAFI agenda through our federations' allocations managed the lengthy portfolio of properties owned/managed by UIA, protected the millions at stake in the United States Resettlement Grant, assured the tax deductibility of our Federations' allocations and advocated for the Jewish Agency working hand-in-hand with a strong CEO, our great friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l.
Jane was such a strong advocate that prior to my "seating" as her successor, I was required to fly to NYC at my expense to meet with JFNA's Co-Chairs Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning so as to assuage their fears and assure that I would be a more "manageable" Chair than was Jane. (I had already been elected UIA Chair by its independent Board.) I assured them as I was required to at the Los Angeles GA just prior to my installation that so long as UIA's limited roles were protected by JFNA and that no actions would be taken by them that would negatively impact on the Jewish Agency, I would "be a good boy." They gave me those assurances...and promptly, almost immediately, breached their agreement with me and, worse, much worse, breached their own fiduciary responsibilities to JFNA's UIA subsidiary. When I privately objected, these leaders threw me under the bus; when I then went public, they backed the bus up almost as well as the driving of which Suge Knight is accused. After months of bitterness, with a lackey best left unnamed, these leaders threatened amending the UIA out of existence unless I resigned. Under those circumstances, even with the continuing support of many UIA and JAFI leaders, I resigned.
The UIA Board elected Milwaukee's Bruce Arbit as my successor. Bruce is/was the best and most knowledgeable lay leader with unquestioned integrity with whom I have had the chance to work over my decades of leadership roles -- no one knew the UIA or the Jewish Agency better and no one was forced to fight harder, almost constantly, to preserve -- not expand, preserve -- UIA's obligations under the merger and its responsibilities under IRS Revenue Rulings, than did Bruce. Far, far more knowledgeable than the JFNA leaders against whom he was forced to push back, Bruce earned -- vu den -- perhaps, albeit doubtful, their respect but certainly their enmity. Time and again, JFNA leaders, having promised Bruce that he and UIA would be the link between JFNA and JAFI, would merely ignore these commitments and act unilaterally. The JFNA lay and professional leadership knew no better, did no better...even after they were reminded.
After Yitzchak Shavit succumbed to the cancer he had fought with such courage for so long, Bruce led the effort to engage Danny Allen and bring Danny back to his pre-merger role as UIA Executive Vice-Chair. I knew from the get-go that Silverman and Becky Caspi would be unable to establish a working relationship with Danny solely because Allen knew so much more about UIA and, more critically, JAFI -- far, far more than the two JFNA professional leaders would ever know. And, sure enough, rather than develop a partnership with Danny, CEO Silverman and Ms. Caspi sharpened their knives and worked to undermine Danny at every turn.
So it came to pass that Bruce's terms ended and Miami's Rich Bernstein succeeded him. Very smart, ambitious, absent local Federation Chair experience Rich embarked immediately on what appeared to be an enhancement of UIA's powers. Rich commissioned a "UIA Futures Report" appointing strong Co-Chairs in D.C.'s Norman Goldstein and Nashville's Fred Zimmerman, the implementation of which would engage UIA in a major advocacy effort (on behalf of its agent, the Jewish Agency) with the federations, more intensive monitoring of its own projects in Israel and other efforts. With incredible leadership, Bernstein and the UIA Executive Vice-Chair Danny Allen, JFNA leadership and the JFNA Board approved the expansion of UIA's work.
Then, with no explanation and no governance action, Rich unilaterally "terminated" the UIA Executive Committee (when I privately expressed my amazement to Bernstein, Rich could have cared less and, clearly, objected to my amazement) and, more and more, Rich began to act unilaterally in ways which appeared to me, and to many others, to be self-promoting (while ostensibly "on behalf of JAFI").
Rich declared himself to be the one, calling in one other JAFI Board member, to resolve all issues as between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency to create a compromise that would allow the GOI/JAFI/Federation "World Jewry Initiative" to move forward. The results, as they say, "speak for themselves." As ejewishphilanthropy reported one month ago, the "Initiative" is dead. The UIA Chaverim effort, envisioned as sending tens of lay leaders into the federations to advocate for JAFI's core allocation and more -- well, there have been no reports on their success but JAFI has been advised that the 2015 calendar year federation cash allocations will reach another historic low. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.
(Further, after an expose on the pages of this Blog about abuses in the administration of the Jewish Agency's very important MASA Program [in which, you may recall, an Anonymous Commentator joined the emerging dialogue under a nom de plume], Rich "demanded" in J'Accuse fashion that I "deny" being the Anonymous writer, He did so in a "when did you stop beating your wife" manner notwithstanding that I long before these attacks, I had denied in writing being whoever he was wrongfully accusing me of being.)
Then, last month:
- UIA elected Memphis' Andy Groveman, a dedicated, passionate leader within the Jewish Agency and UIA, and an outspoken, committed advocate for overseas allocations, as Bernstein's successor. Andy will need leadership skills he has yet had the opportunity to demonstrate to withstand the acquisitive tendencies of the lay and professional leadership of JFNA's Global Services: Israel and Overseas Council and protect the mandated roles of UIA. I know he will try. Now Andy's first loyalties will have to be to UIA, as the Jewish Agency's principal and JFNA, not to the Jewish Agency, UIA's agent. This may be a difficult transition for Andy. I wish Andy and the UIA Board well; and
- After walking a tight-rope for over two years as UIA's professional leader, strengthening UIA and its role vis-a-vis JAFI every step of the way, Danny Allen abruptly "resigned," apparently forced out by Silverman and the constant undermining of Allen's UIA leadership by Caspi. Sadly, Danny, who should have expected the unwavering support of his Chair, Richard Bernstein, inasmuch as everything that Danny had done in his UIA role was to strengthen the organization, found none when he most needed it. Rich appeared to this writer to be far more concerned with his relationships with Siegal/Silverman, et al., than anything else. Instead of standing up for Danny Allen, who appeared to have been under almost constant threat of termination by his superior, Rich Bernstein was not to be found.
- Now, Andy Groveman will have the difficult juggling act of assuring that Danny Allen's successor will be a woman/man who will have the strength and understanding to continue UIA's multiple legal responsibilities without compromising his/her professional integrity to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi. Yet, the job description for the UIA Vice-Chair position, drafted with such care prior to the Search process that led to Danny's hiring, is now being reviewed, not by Rich Bernstein, not by Andy Groveman, but by Mark Gurvis, David Brown and Becky Caspi, none of whom have any role in the operations of UIA. Andy Groveman will "lead" the Search process. I have spoken with several professional leaders who would be ideal UIA professional leaders -- each has used the identical language to tell me: "I could never work for Jerry Silverman."
During my brief tenure as UIA Chair, I observed that among all of the arms/tentacles of JFNA, it was UIA that (a) had a Board comprised almost totally of federation Board members and/or present or past Campaign Chairs and (b) was performing its functions faithfully and responsibly as charged by the merger agreement and IRS Revenue Rulings. If that does not continue to be the case, there will be no further need for UIA.